Millennials' concerns about health and the prevention of disease have strengthened during the pandemic, according to research.
COVID-19 has spurred a relatively sizable and sudden change in the way that Millennials are thinking about their health. This new mindset will affect their food, beverage, and vitamin/supplement choices, and understanding it will help grocers deepen their relationships with the 72 million Millennials — born between 1981 and 1996 — who make up the largest living generation. Millennials overtook the Baby Boomer generation in size in 2019, according to the Pew Research Center.
Recent surveys show that Millennials place a higher priority on health and wellness than any other generation, including the oldest Americans, and the importance that Millennials give to a healthy lifestyle has increased more dramatically than other generations over the past decade. In addition, their concerns about health and the prevention of disease have strengthened during the pandemic.
In its consumer surveys on health-and-wellness trends, the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) found that 77% of Millennials saw a healthy, balanced lifestyle as “very” or “extremely important” in 2020. Only 65% of Millennials considered that type of lifestyle to be “very/extremely important” in 2010.
Among all generations, the perceived importance of a healthy/balanced lifestyle increased only two percentage points over the decade, from 69% to 71%. In 2010, the “matures”— those born in 1945 or earlier — put the highest value on a healthy lifestyle, with 76% saying that it was very/extremely important, but that share slipped slightly to 75% in 2020.
Another study showed that the worldwide pandemic spurred Millennials to make health care and disease prevention their highest personal priority. The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, which took the pulse of more than 14,600 Millennials in 45 countries, asked respondents to identify their top three personal concerns. Twenty-eight percent of Millennials cited health care and disease prevention as a top concern in 2021, as compared with 21% in 2020. Worries about their own health edged out Millennials’ concern about climate change/protecting the environment, which topped the list in 2020 at 28% and declined to 26% in 2021.
It should come as no surprise that Millennials are driving three of the biggest trends in health and wellness — immunity-boosting foods and supplements, flexitarian diets and plant-based products, and solutions for better sleep and mental health. Let’s take a closer look at how the Millennial generation and these trends are interconnected.
Melatonin, magnesium and CBD have been found to be among the most popular supplements taken for mental and sleep health among Millennials and other generations.
Foods and Supplements Get Immunity Boost
Building immunity has become a greater passion for Millennials since COVID-19, affecting their purchases of vitamins and supplements, as well as foods and beverages — a cross-merchandising opportunity that grocers can leverage better than any other retailer.
In Innova’s 2020 Consumer Survey, Millennials and younger Gen Xers, collectively 26 to 45 years old, showed the most significant increases in concern about their immune health since the pandemic, indicating “potential for longer-term consumer interest,” according to the CPG market intelligence firm.
More than half (52%) of Millennial respondents to the NMI study said that their interest in immunity-boosting foods had increased since the COVID-19 outbreak, and this trend is strong across generations, with 46% of all respondents having a greater interest in foods that can fortify the body against sickness and disease.
Millennials, who are the most likely generation to use the web and social media for health information, have learned that many foods can boost the immune system: beets, cider vinegar, citrus fruits, fermented vegetables, garlic, ginger, leafy green vegetables, manuka honey, mushrooms, probiotics, and more.
Food and beverage companies have embraced the immunity-boosting trend. According to Innova Market Insights, 383 food and beverage products with immune-health claims were launched in the first half of 2021 alone, according to The Wall Street Journal.
While “overall health-and-wellness benefits” is the most popular reason that consumers cite for taking nutritional supplements, immune health has replaced energy as the second most popular reason in the Council for Responsible Nutrition’s (CRN) consumer surveys.
In 2020, almost one-third (32%) of consumers said that they were taking supplements for immune health, up from 27% in 2019. Among supplement users age 18 to 34, 38% said that immune support is their primary reason for taking supplements.
Vitamin C (61%), multivitamins (57%) and vitamin D (47%) are the top three ingredients that supplement users are taking to support their immune health, followed by zinc (32%), B complex (28%), probiotics (27%), turmeric (19%) and elderberry (13%), according to CRN.
Recent surveys show that Millennials place a higher value on health and wellness than any other generation.
Plant-Forward Diets Meet Health and Sustainability Needs
While some Millennials see vegetarian, vegan or plant-forward diets as better for their health, others choose those diets because of their concern about the environmental impact of eating meat.
More than one in five Millennials (22%) have adopted a vegetarian diet at some point in their lives, and 16% have tried a vegan diet, according to YouGov research, but a much larger share, 45%, are adopting a flexitarian lifestyle, in which they’re reducing meat consumption but not cutting it out entirely. A slightly smaller share of Millennials, 18%, are turning to dairy-free eating.
Sprouts Farmers Market commissioned One Poll to conduct consumer research around New Year’s 2021 to find out how shoppers were thinking about plant-based foods, finding that 54% of Millennial respondents were consuming more plant-based meals than meat, in contrast to the 47% of consumers of all age groups who described themselves as flexitarians.
While 58% of survey respondents reported feeling that all of their nutritional needs could be met with plant-based foods, 63% of Millennials said that a plant-based diet could fulfill their nutritional needs. Only 30% of consumers in the Boomer generation and older felt the same way.
This shift toward more plant-based foods and meat alternatives will only grow, the retailer predicts. “The interest in plant-based foods and a flexitarian diet is evident,” says Sprouts CEO Jack Sinclair. “Plant-based product sales grew exponentially last year, indicating consumers are craving innovative items to try at home.”
According to SPINS, the retail market for plant-based foods and beverages is worth $5.6 billion and growing at a pace of 29% annually, almost twice the 15% growth rate of the overall food and beverage market.
In its “State of Natural 2021” report, market researcher SPINS notes that plant-based ready-to-drink shelf-stable tea and coffee have been recent stars, growing 76%, as compared with 12% growth for the category overall. Other high performers were shelf-stable jerky and meat snacks, up 53% in a category with 15% growth; refrigerated creams and creamers, up 38% in a category with 16% growth; and refrigerated plant-based cheese, up 37% in the refrigerated cheese/plant-based cheese category, which has 17% growth.
Young People Say, ‘It’s OK to Not Be OK’
During the delayed pandemic Olympics in 2021, top-ranked gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the all-around team competition and three of the four individual events for which she qualified, saying that she needed to focus on her well-being and mental health. Epitomizing younger Americans’ acceptance of mental health issues and of speaking openly about them, Biles received an outpouring of support from her Millennial and Gen Z peers — she was born on the cusp between generations — as well as all-time Olympic gold medal winner Michael Phelps, a Millennial who has been spreading his mantra “It’s OK to not be OK” while speaking openly about his own struggle with depression.
Healthscape’s “2020 Healthcare Trends Executive Brief” identified mental health openness as one of the top trends in Millennials’ interactions with health care. “Millennials have overcome the stigma associated with seeking professional help for mental health that previous generations held,” the report observes. “They are not only more likely to identify behavioral health issues, but also seek treatment.”
In a YPulse survey of Millennials and Gen Zers, i.e., people age 13 to 39 in 2020, 77% said that maintaining their mental health had become more important to them during the pandemic, with 59% reporting that they were “going the extra mile” to take care of their mental health.
In January 2020, even before COVID-19 hit, 30% of Millennials in a YouGov survey said that they had changed their diet to improve their mental health.
Millennials understand that better sleep is tied to good mental health, so the trend toward eating certain foods and taking supplements to improve sleep is intertwined with Millennials’ commitment to their mental health.
A CRN survey taken in the midst of the pandemic found that melatonin, magnesium and CBD were among the most popular supplements taken for mental and sleep health, regardless of the consumer’s age.
Among the lesser-known ingredients for brain health, three in the nootropics category have seen double-digit growth in usage by manufacturers, according to SPINS. Use of Bacopa monnieri, an herb used by Ayurvedic medical practitioners that is said to enhance brain function, grew 148%; use of phosphatidylserine, an amino acid derivative purported to support memory, mental alertness and cognitive function, rose 109%; and use of DMAE, which is said to support neurotransmitter production, grew 104%.